Palm Springs Golf Overview

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

You don't have to look up into the clear night sky of Palm Springs to see the stars. This desert oasis has been a golf playground for the who's who of Hollywood ever since the game first reared its upper class head in the Coachella Valley in the roaring 20s.

Frank Sinatra favored "The Springs" as he called it, and Bob Hope made one of his homes here. Gerald Ford was a regular fixture on areas golf links, and Ginger Rogers was never one to pass up a winter trip to this stark, stunning desert golf mecca.

These days, Palm Springs/Palm Desert attracts the likes of Alice Cooper, Amy Grant, and any other of the myriad of stars you'll find at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic - the PGA Tour's annual California desert pit stop.

Each year, thousands of golfers make the trek to Palm Springs and Palm Desert, a rite of passage that lies somewhere between a golf pilgrimage to Las Vegas or Scottsdale, but can cost as much both trips combined. Yet, Palm Springs has cast upon the golfing world -- one that maintains it hold despite the seemingly prohibitive cost. So what gives?

First, the weather is picture perfect for five months of the year. Highs in the 70s are the norm from November to March, and April and May are downright bearable because of the low humidity. With over 300 sunny days a year, golfers have a perfect platform for 36 holes a day and deep tan to match.

Second, the golf courses are plentiful and second to none in quality and conditioning. More than 100 golf tracks stretch across the Coachella Valley, and most were crafted by big name designers like Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones II.

Finally, there's the ambiance. Today's Palm Springs hasn't backed off the upscale charm, as you can still hit the old school haunts of Frank and Sammy Davis Jr. But there are plenty of chic eateries and nightclubs that have sprung up to cater to the new money.

Top-notch layouts have been popping up in and around Palm Springs since the building boom of the 1970's, and if you want to play in the peak season, you'll have to pay the fiddler. But the spring and summer months can bring $100 to $150 reductions in prices at some courses.

PGA West Stadium Course: Pete Dye set the standard for desert golf in the valley with this opulent, dastardly, deceptively beautiful layout. The West Stadium Course oozes Palm Springs, with its casino style clubhouse, target style golf, and closely cropped fairways. Unlike some of the friendlier resort courses, Dye's creation plays to a knee-knocking 75.9 course rating and 150 slope. Some aspects of the course are borderline gimmicky, but for the serious golfer, the course is a must-play. Cases in point: the 22-foot greenside bunker on the 566-yard par-5 16th; and "Alcatraz", Dye's signature 168-yard par-3 that plays over an opaque lake to an island green surrounded by rocks and pot bunkers. The course hosted the Skins Game back in the late 1980's, but weekend golfers shouldn't expect to win anything other than humble pie. Price: $60 - $235.

La Quinta Resort Mountain Course: The predecessor to the Stadium Course, La Quinta's Mountain Course opened its doors in 1980 and desert golf hasn't been the same since. The benign front nine leads players to think they have a shot at posting a low score. The back nine provides the Dye-reality check, propelling golfers into the wilderness of the desert and towards a high number. The par-316th is the Mountain Course's signature hole. This one-shotter sports an elevated tee box and with views to Arizona on a clear day (there are over 300 of them). Price: $60-$235.

The Shadow Ridge Faldo Course The new age of course design is being ushered in by one of the game's most meticulous players. Nick Faldo has begun to dabble in golf course architecture, and fans of good golf course architecture hope he decides to stick with his new hobby. Shadow Ridge takes its inspiration from the Sand Belt courses of Australia, and the layout is one of the most visually stunning productions in the region. The course is chalked full of native grasses, closely cropped collection areas, flared-up bunkers, and plenty of jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching holes. The par-5 second plays to over 600 yards and is flanked by a lake on the right and waster bunkers on the left. Price: $50 - $150.

Mission Hills North: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The point being, if you are tired of getting beat up by Dye, you can always mosey on over to Mission Hills and be stroked with the kid gloves of this player friendly Gary Player designed course. Mission Hills North is known for its wide fairways, negotiable water hazards and large greens that cater to weekend golfers. Yet, at 7000-plus yards from the back tees, low handicappers can enjoy the course as well. The wind is almost always a factor at Mission Hills North, and the desert thermals can make some holes play two or three clubs longer. Price: $60 - $150.

If You Have More Than a Long Weekend ...

Firecliff at Desert Willow Golf Resort is a classy, municipal course designed by Michael Hurdzan featuring plenty of desert hazards ... PGA West Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course is a player friendly version of Dye's Stadium Course ... Land Mark Golf Club Skins North Course is home to the Skins Game through 2004 ... Desert Dunes Golf Club is a late 1980's RTJ II offering that feels like a links course stuck in the desert.

Best Courses for the Money

The Ted Robinson designed Resort Course at Tahquitz Creek is open to the public and one of the most affordable upscale tracks in town ... Indian Springs Country Club, a semi-private course that was recently expanded and redesigned, is now ranked among the top five public courses in the Palm Springs area by Desert Golf magazine ... One of the best values in the Coachella Valley is at the Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City, which has both a par-56 short course and a par-71 long course, both designed by John Fought.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • autographed print

    bill cunningham wrote on: Jul 27, 2005

    In the 1980's, my dad worked at the PGA West course when a skins game was played featuring Nicklaus,Palmer,Trevino,and I believe Zoeller. The four players autographed a PGA West print for my dad and I now have it. I was told one was autographed for the clubhouse and I am in possession of the only other. Can any one tell me where to contact to look for a fair market price for this beautiful print? Thanks, Bill Cunningham